Monday, 7 November 2011

A national cathedral?

The Irish Times carries the following editorial comment today [7 November 2011]:

A national cathedral?

Anthony Trollope’s Victorian novels have made the fictitious cathedral town of Barchester synonymous with cathedral politics, clerical ambition and manipulative manoeuvres.

The antics of the bishop, dean and chapter of Barchester are in stark contrast to the real issues at St Paul’s Cathedral in London today, where the dean, a senior canon and others have resigned on conflicting points of principle, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London speaking out about the economy and the right to peaceful protest.

St Paul’s is worlds apart from Barchester. A closer parallel to Barchester might be found in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, where the dean, the Very Rev Dr Robert MacCarthy, sparked a controversy by asking all seven presidential candidates to support his proposal to make St Patrick’s “a national cathedral, not merely for the Church of Ireland but for all Irish Christians.” Dean MacCarthy’s proposal is generous and deserves consideration, although members of other churches may not be eager to share the financial burden of maintaining a large medieval cathedral in the city centre that has a dwindling Sunday attendance. A similar suggestion was once put forward by Dean Victor Griffin and many within the cathedral community are sympathetic to the idea of sharing the building with other Christians.

St Patrick’s, however, belongs not to the dean but to the whole Church of Ireland; appointments to the chapter (canons or senior clergy) are not solely in his gift, but shared by the 12 dioceses and bishops. Dean MacCarthy’s proposal has provoked strong criticism from chapter members and the board, partly because of the way he went about it. Canon Michael Kennedy and board member Alan Graham complain that he failed to consult the 27 other chapter members and the board members.

In the past, the dean has been censured by both chapter and board after they asked him not to make public statements without their approval. His record on engaging with other denominations is mixed. His tenure at St Patrick’s has seen the emergence of two ecumenical leaders, one Presbyterian and one Roman Catholic. On the other hand, the dean once dismissed Islam and Hinduism as indoctrinating cults. It is a pity that the dean’s complicated relationships with other stakeholders in St Patrick’s have obscured the merits of his ideas about the cathedral’s future, which deserve careful consideration and thorough debate.